Join Date: Nov 2003
Unseeded King upsets top seeded Court, 1962 Wimbledon first match
"Unique Achievement by Miss Moffitt," The Times, London, 27 June 1962:
It was ladies' day at Wimbledon yesterday and it was left to them, in one sweeping gesture, to bring the first touch of character, surprise and colour to the championships; this on a grey and chilly afternoon when a gusty wind made at least one extravagant hat tilt at an unbecoming angle.
It was a day made largely by one result when events turned back on their prosaic tracks of 24 hours earlier. Wimbledon, by tradition, is a switchback full of unexpected sharp twists and inclines. Yet few could have foreseen the dramatic 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Miss Smith - favourite and No. 1 seed, champion of Australia, Italy and France - as she took her first step on the centre court towards the expected final. Her opponent was little Miss Moffitt, ranked third in America, and a public parks player at her native Long Beach, California.
Before the whole gala began one felt that this would be a Wimbledon where the women, above all, could beguile. The leaves were there to be shaken off the branches. Now it has happened - all too soon for those who had banked on the first dual singles victory in history for Australians. At Wimbledon no one, irrespective of rank or title, is permitted nine lives. Now poor Miss Smith found herself left behind in the shadows.
When Miss Moffitt, wearing her pert, pointed glasses, took the stage in succession to the bespectacled Miss Grace - who earlier had bowed out 6-2, 6-2 in gallant but largely opaque fashion to the holder, Miss Mortimer - one felt that this might be a case of spectacles in one sense, but not in the other.
Yet it was as though a new volcano was thrown up. A packed gallery slowly awakened to the developing scene, excitedly absorbed the creations of the exuberant, uninhibited little American, whose game - win or lose - always suggests a champagne bubble as she takes the whole world into her confidence between rallies.
Shoulder to shoulder, she was dwarfed by the lean athleticism of the Australian favourite. And when she was coldly and methodically swamped 1-6 in the opening set there was nothing to suggest what lurked around the corner. But soon the plot began to unfold. Miss Moffitt, a gay extrovert, suddenly began to find a rich vein of passes and volleys. She swept with breaks in the second and fourth games to a 5-0 lead in the second set.
It was then that the first flaws in Miss Smith's armour began to show. She became tentative and nervous. Smashes, usually so clinically ruthless, started missing the target; and her service stuttered as four double-faults crept in, two of them as she cast away the fourth game. At that stage in the second set a mere six points were her meagre harvest, and the American drew level at a set all.
If this has the fashionable scene astir, it was nothing to the climax. When Miss Smith, recovering her powerful poise, her forehand drive, and her impeccable return of service, set her mark on the scene to lead 4-1 and 5-2, the expected shadows lay across the match.
All at once came the transformation. If there was a turning point it came in the ninth game, with the Australian serving, 5-3 already in her book. She stood at 30-15. But a sharp, running backhand pass caught her for 30-all, and from that moment the whole picture changed. Miss Moffitt reached for the stars. She broke service for that game to reach 4-5, capitalizing on that pass, then served to 5-all and broke again to lead 6-5.
It was in this game that the alarm bells rang as Miss Smith twice smashed out of court, and served her sixth double-fault, to stand 15-40. Two brave volleys pulled her to deuce, but she was pegged back again - first with a delicious, soft ball cross court backhand from her effervescent foe, and then by her own faltering forehand from the baseline. The net was now a wall growing higher and higher for the Australian.
We were now one step from the peak. Three sharp volleys took Miss Moffitt to 40-0. A fine smash by Miss Smith made the scoreboard lights wink to 40-15. Next a nervous double fault brought them to 40-30. But a final, neat backhand volley clinched a great victory and left Miss Moffitt dancing with joy after a match of personality poised at the last on a razor's edge.
One chance factor perhaps altered everything: the restless wind. Miss Moffitt, taking the ball earlier off the ground, was the less affected by the awkward conditions. In addition, with nothing to lose, her personality never allowed her to be a prisoner of tension and nerves. Technically, the free, wristy snap of her service; her ability to dig out the low volleys (Miss Smith's height here has more than once shown at a disadvantage in the past); and her clever use of the slow, half-court, cross-court backhand pass all combined to create the day's headlines.
There can only be sympathy for Miss Smith. The great have fallen in the past, of course, though this was the first time the No. 1 seed, man or woman, had ever lost at the very start. The mental load was perhaps too heavy. Miss Smith was vulnerable also to the wind and those tricky cross-court passes; and towards the finish, as the last grains suddenly and surprisingly began to drain away, she became full of nerves.
Still, it was a dignified exit, and as Miss Smith said wistfully at the end: "I'll be back." Meantime, the top half of the draw is wide open.
"Crowd Helps the Underdog," The Times, London, 27 June 1962:
Miss Moffitt talked about pressures which work against top favourites after her match with Miss Smith. "I think Margaret's country put a great deal of pressure on her," she said. "When they start taking the pressure off she can do a great deal better than she has. If you are the underdog the crowd help you along a great deal. They start clapping at every point you gain and that helps you along."
Miss Moffitt, who had never played Miss Smith before, confessed, "I am feeling numb. I am still not awake." She did not have any special plans for beating Miss Smith, but she had watched her play many times, especially her forehand, and she felt she had some hopes of winning.
A pleasant, rosy-faced girl, who has only just left school, Miss Moffitt has been playing lawn tennis since she was 13, just as long, in fact, as she has been wearing spectacles. She does not come from a lawn tennis family, but she received "enormous encouragement" from them.
Miss Smith gave a sad press conference after her defeat. "I was nervous and had centre court jitters," she said. She went into some technicalities - she had given easy points away, she had rushed too much - but she came back to the matter of temperament. "I didn't have much confidence. It didn't make any difference being the top seed. My ground strokes were not working - maybe I was too anxious."
Last edited by austinrunner : Feb 3rd, 2011 at 10:45 AM.